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The Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates (PCC) has received a considerable amount of feedback regarding the use of Judges 19:1–30 as the basis for the Winter 2023 Bible Exegesis Exam. It will be reviewing those communications and considering possible further actions in response to them during its annual meeting the week of March 13.

Given the interest across the church in this matter and in keeping with the General Assembly’s “open meeting policy” permitting people to observe the deliberations of Assembly entities and workgroups, the PCC will be livestreaming its plenary business session on Tuesday, March 14, from 9 a.m. to noon Eastern time. It has set consideration of matters arising from the recent exegesis exam as an “order of the day” for 10 a.m. Eastern time. The livestream can be viewed at https://oga.pcusa.org/section/mid-council-ministries/prep4min/standard-ordination-exams/

Among the concerns expressed relating to the Winter 2023 Bible Exegesis Exam was that no advance notice was provided to candidates that the subject matter of the test might elicit strong emotions or even a traumatic response for some people taking the test, particularly since such notice was provided at the beginning of the training materials provided to the readers who evaluated the exams. Others commented that the diversity of human experience is such that even texts that might be joyously received by some could nevertheless be troubling or even traumatic for others (for example, a healing narrative in the Gospels if they personally or a family member are dealing with a debilitating disease).

In response to these concerns, the PCC Executive Committee will bring before the full committee a proposal to add the following statement to the registration process:

"In their validated ministries and in service to church members and colleagues, Teaching Elders may encounter situations and topics that may be painful to them or surface past harm or trauma experienced by them. Exam questions include situations and topics often encountered in the practice of validated ministry. Candidates, pastors, Committees on Preparation for Ministry (CPM), and presbyteries are strongly encouraged to ensure that systems of support and care are available to candidates who are taking exams and those called to be pastors.

"In the event a candidate finds a text, situation, scenario, or topic in an ordination exam painful or surfacing past harm or trauma, the exam honor code does not preclude the candidate from seeking pastoral or mental health support during the exam period provided no material assistance is given in answering the exam questions themselves.  

"Should a candidate find it is not possible to complete an exam because its content elicits a trauma response, the candidate should consult with the CPM to arrange for a future exam or an alternative form of examination.

"By registering for the Standard Ordination Exams, I acknowledge receipt of this caution and affirm that I have consulted with the CPM to ensure systems of support are available if needed and I understand that I can consult and am entitled to consult with those systems of support during Exams should I need them."

The PCC welcomes public comment on this proposal that would inform the committee’s consideration. To maximize the opportunity to comment and the committee’s ability to discuss it, they will be gathering statements through the process used by the 225th General Assembly (2022) for “public hearings” by Assembly committees. That process involves statements being recorded and submitted in advance of the time docketed for consideration through the PC(USA)’s “Equip” website.

As with Assembly committee hearings, it will be necessary to set a limit on how many statements may be received. The Executive Committee has set that limit at up to 10 statements in favor of the proposal and 10 statements against it. Each statement will be limited to two minutes. In keeping with the procedures established for last year’s General Assembly, those wishing to submit testimony must first review materials on how video statements must be submitted and then apply for one of the available slots. If more requests are received than there are slots available, invitations for speakers will be determined using a random selection process.

Information regarding this public comment process and the online form to submit the application to provide testimony are available at equip.pcusa.org/course/view.php?id=539. The deadline to submit an application is Friday, March 3. Notice will be sent to all applicants on Monday morning, March 6, to let them know whether they were selected to present testimony. Invitees must submit their video statements by Wednesday, March 8, at 8 p.m. Eastern time. The recorded statements will be publicly available at the same site beginning on Thursday, March 9.